Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Utah running back Quinton Ganther is the best bet to be drafted by an NFL team this year among Ute players.

A year after the pre-draft hype surrounding quarterback Alex Smith, things are a little more quiet at the University of Utah.

This weekend's NFL draft isn't expected to include five Utes as it did in 2005.

Running back Quinton Ganther was the team's lone participant in the NFL's Scouting Combine.

The cupboard, though, is far from bare. Circumstances are just different.

"It's not like last year when Alex Smith did his workout. But I think we've got a group of legitimate NFL prospects," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "If they end up not getting drafted I think they're going to be big hits in camp as free agents."

While Ganther is projected by many sources to be a mid-round selection, uncertainty surrounds teammates Steve Fifita, Jesse Boone, Spencer Toone, Travis LaTendresse, John Madsen and David Dirkmaat. Each has been included in some mock drafts, but without a consensus.

Whittingham acknowledged it's an interesting year.

"It's a situation where some years you hear 15 different teams like a certain player. He's projected to go in a certain round and doesn't even end up getting drafted," Whittingham said. "Then another guy will have heard from nobody during the course of evaluations and get drafted. It's a funny business. You never know what those scouts are thinking."

The whole process, Whittingham continued, is very stressful.

"Even if you don't feel like you're going to get drafted there's still that lingering hope in the back of your mind that you will," he said. "You're just hoping that somebody will step up and call your name out."

Aside from Ganther, who impressed scouts with his strength and work ethic at the combine, Utah lacks a sure-fire pick in 2006.

"We could come away with four or five getting drafted or potentially just one of them," Whittingham said. "We've got several guys, in my opinion, who are very draftable."

Even so, it may not translate into any draft calls this weekend.

Former Utah quarterback Ken Vierra, an attorney and player agent, predicts that only one or two Utes may be taken. He can also see a scenario where none of them are selected — though several ultimately will be invited to NFL camps as free agents.

"It's not an indictment of the quality of football players at Utah this year," Vierra said. "It's just how well those particular football players' games happen to transition to the next level. That's really more of what that is."

He points to Fifita and Toone as examples of such. Both players were among the best defenders Utah has had in recent years.

Vierra said that Ganther is likely to go in the sixth or seventh rounds. He listed the odds at better than 50 percent it will happen. Another possibility is LaTendresse, one of Vierra's clients. Vierra has been contacted by the Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts this week. Each mentioned they may take LaTendresse in one of the late rounds.

Comment on this story

"I think those two guys have the best chance," Vierra said of Utah's draft hopefuls.

Fifita and Madsen, he added, will get camp invitations if not drafted. So, too, may Boone, Dirkmaat and Toone.

In 2005, Utah had five draft picks (Smith, Sione Pouha, Chris Kemoeatu, Jonathan Fanene and Paris Warren) and two camp invitees (Steve Savoy and Morgan Scalley).

Ex-Ute expecting an invite

Former Utah quarterback Brett Elliott, who won a national championship, set numerous passing records and was named Div. III player of the year after transferring to Linfield College in Oregon, told the Portland Oregonian that he isn't concerned about whether or not he'll be drafted this weekend.

"There are so many quarterbacks out there," he told the newspaper. "Somebody's going to be left out. There are a few teams interested in me, so I'm fine. I'll be in a camp. That's all you can ask for."